Chapter One: Voyeurism
"How many kids do you have?"
A voice crowed from across a large maroon fence separating all the neighborhood's front yards. Deanna Finnegan accidentally dropped the large box marked "breakable" and cringed at the sound of shattering dinner plates. She clenched her fists nervously and caught the eyes of her disapproving stepmother in her peripheral vision.
"Just pick it up, Deanna." The immediate Mrs. Finnegan ordered, raising her tone at the end of the sentence to intensify her disdain. Deanna scowled and watched curiously as her father crept towards the large fence until he came face to face, so to speak, with a large, gray eye. He knocked on the wood which caused the voyeur to turn away.
Deanna followed her father to the end of the fence and listened as the new neighbors made their introductions. "Hi, my name's Liam Finnegan, and this is my daughter, Deanna." Deanna nodded politely, grateful to be out of her stepmother's line of vision.
The voice beyond the fence turned out to be exactly as it sounded, an old southern man who held tightly to his drawl. His oversized t-shirt hung loosely from his plump belly, and his pajama pants were dull greens and too big to stay up without a tie. From his voice and mannerisms Deanna guessed he was probably a retired police officer or sheriff. Either outcome would certainly explain his nosiness.
"The name's Walter Lafayette, and I asked you a question, son."
Deanna watched her father's expression change from a cheerful greeting, to an understanding frown. Liam Finnegan had aged well during his forty years and although he could not empathize with Mr. Lafayette's bitterness towards attractive youth, he was certainly not going to question it.
"I have four children, Walter. Five, if you count my son who is attending university in Shreveport." Deanna winced at the words, "my son". She still hadn't adjusted to her father's instant integration into a new family. No matter how much her father pressured her otherwise, the Aisners would always be her stepfamily.
"Shreveport?" Mr. Lafayette questioned, almost angrily. "That's a long ways from a small town like Cameron, isn't it?"
Liam shrugged charmingly, "Closer than New Jersey." Mr. Lafayette switched his old, oak cane from one hand to the other. He smirked confidently as if his suspicions had just reached fruition. "So... you're not from Louisiana, are ya? Not only that, you is city folk." His frail hand and thin fingers motioned towards the approaching caravan of city folk.
Logan Aisner, Deanna's new stepbrother of the same age, stood just beside her father with his arms crossed and his eyes glaring judgmentally. Just as Mr. Lafayette was sizing up the new homeowners, so was Logan assessing the old man's threat level. Vivian, Liam's virgin wife, approached the group warmly with a toddler holding each of her hands.
"My name is Vivian Finnegan, Mister..?" She released her hold on Deanna's younger brother, Blake, who let his arm fall lazily to his side. Vivian reached out her hand to confirm her and Mr. Lafayette's acquaintanceship, but the elderly man had become perturbed.
"I don't need to know your name, missus. Now, yall's greeting is all well n' good, but this community doesn't need anymore kids comin' in to cause trouble. Especially teenagers." Walter scowled in Logan's direction who was already inheriting Mrs. Finnegan's obvious disdain. Logan threw his hands into the air, and turned sharply towards the large U-Haul. Returning to work, he muttered under his breath just loud enough for the old man to hear him, "I'm sure the community doesn't need peeping-toms either."
Deanna frowned at Logan's unnecessary harshness. In the first two months of her father's remarriage she had found her new stepbrother to be abrasive, cold, and moody. They were certainly not going to get along.
Liam Finnegan shook his head disapprovingly as he returned his attention to Mr. Lafayette. "I'm sorry about my son, he's disappointed about the move."
Just as immaturely as Logan, Walter Lafayette scoffed under his breath, "So am I." At this point pleasantries and politeness were no longer enough. Liam stood his ground and spoke firmly, rightfully justifying his family.
"Look, Mr. Lafayette. My daughter and son are both sixteen and are very mature for their age. And my youngest children are barely four years old. I assure you that my family will be no trouble, unless you invite it."
Although Walter recognized the underlying threat, he chose to ignore it before he lost his captive audience. He began murmuring to himself until he voiced what he had really wanted to talk about all along. "We've already got enough problems here, son. Our fisherman head out to sea and they don't come back breathing, that is."
Deanna raised her eyebrow inquisitively. Before she could demand an explanation, her father was already waving away the remark. "I read the story on the internet. It's my solemn promise, Mr. Lafayette, that my children will not be drowning any fishermen."
Liam released a crooked smile, obviously pleased with himself. He hooked Vivian's arm and turned towards the house that they had yet to venture into. Deanna lingered for a few more moments, staring at Walter's wizened gray eyes. Eventually she promised herself to look up the news article later, and followed her father's retreat. As she walked away, Mr. Lafayette's southern accent echoed over the fence once again as he offered a dark warning.
"Be careful young 'un, and don't get too close to the water."
Later that morning
Deanna shuffled frantically through her unpacked suitcases. She huffed angrily to herself, upset that Vivian insisted that she and Logan attend their first day of school that same day. She grasped aimlessly through her random toiletries until she produced a large, black brush. She smiled triumphantly to herself and ran to the vanity mirror that sat slightly askew on top of her chest of drawers.
Logan and her father hadn't taken the time to straighten it while lugging it up the stairs. She rolled her eyes irritably, resenting her stepbrother's inconsiderateness more and more. Deanna tugged roughly at the frizzy mass that was her hair. It's strawberry blonde curls hung untamed around her face. They protruded from all directions and no amount of hair product would control them. Deanna sighed helplessly and threw the brush down.
Vivian's echoing scream reached Deanna's ears from the first floor. "Young lady, you're going to be late!" Deanna ignored her cries however, and contemplated the possible first impression she would make on her soon-to-be classmates. Her skin was very ashen and washed-out, a remnant of her obvious Irish heritage. Her arms and legs were long and awkwardly gangly. She pressed her palms to her flat stomach and pondered how sickly her thinness made her appear.
Her hands roamed to her chest where she clenched her A-Cup breast size despairingly. At this rate she certainly wasn't going to be a knockout in time for prom night. Leaning in closer to the mirror, she removed her thick, black-rimmed glasses and stared into her hereditary viridian irises. The dark freckles that covered her face and shoulders were more of a blemish than a natural beauty mark. She scrubbed at them futilely, as if friction would cause them to decay away.
For a moment she wished her mother were there to tell her comforting things. "You're such a beautiful girl, Deanna. They'd be crazy not to love you." Instead all she could hear was, "Deanna Finnegan, we're leaving right now. Get down here!"
She scowled loudly, flailing her arms around until she had a hold of her messenger bag and her black hoodie dotted with buttons gifted by her Asian American friend, Cindy. The pins expressed her love for the Japanese cartoon style - Anime, and the panda clip she was pinning back her bangs with confirmed her obsession.
Deanna stampeded down the stairs that led into an unfamiliar foyer filled with half empty boxes. Liam Finnegan was standing at the open door with a warm smile playing along his lips. Although Vivian was honking her horn impatiently, Deanna's father stopped her long enough to remind her of his devotion.
He scooped her into a ferocious hug that didn't used to be so painful. Ever since Liam Finnegan had begun bodybuilding since becoming a single man, his hugs had become more hazardous. Not inheriting the pale skin and rampant freckles, Liam was a handsome Irishman. His short, dark brown hair was combed charmingly to the side. His tall stature and casual, but professional shirt and jeans complimented his well-formed muscle tone.
He had spent many days in the park exercising and unintentionally tanning his skin a lovely copper color. One hand in his pocket, Liam used the other to readjust the rimless glasses that sat just at the end of his nose. That and his green eyes were the only things he shared with his daughter.
"Dee " Liam began lovingly, holding Deanna's shoulders in his outstretched arms. "I know it's hard to make changes. But I promise, these will be for the better." Deanna smiled halfheartedly, trying to convince her father that she was being as optimistic as possible. Disappointingly enough, he knew his daughter too well. As the honking continued, he wrapped one arm around her shoulder and led her to the door.
"I know you miss Cindy, sweetie, but after school you can call her. Maybe tell her about the new friends you made. I know it isn't New Jersey, but this town is good for my writing, and it's good for Vivian's relationship with her son. We'll be closer to his school, maybe help keep him out of trouble " He paused, awaiting Deanna's reaction. When she stifled her sarcastic chuckle, Liam grinned happily and continued. "And maybe I'll be able to finish my book, and my editor will stop harassing me. You understand, don't you, Dee? It will be better for all of us."
Although Deanna Finnegan didn't understand how her father's book and Vivian's oldest son, Nicholas, had anything to do with her pursuit of happiness, she nodded reassuringly. "I get it, dad. But you're definitely gonna get it when Mr. Lafayette gets tired of hearing that horn." As the car horn blared just after Deanna finished her sentence, Liam chuckled wholeheartedly.
He gently pushed his stumbling daughter out the door and watched her sprint towards the open passenger side of the blue Ford Explorer. Deanna lifted herself into the empty backseat, not complaining that Logan had already called shotgun next to his mother. Deanna pulled the car door shut, and did not hear her father's parting words as Vivian sped away.
"Don't worry, Dee. They'd be crazy not to love you."